“An eye in an eye”: tangential section through the fly visual system showing glial processes (green) and nuclei (blue), and rows of photoreceptor axons (red).

Iris Salecker : Visual Circuit Assembly Laboratory

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The brain is a fascinating organ, essential for our ability to interpret sensory information such as sight, smell or sound, and to produce complex responses and behaviours.

Brains contain a multitude of different nerve cell types, as well as supporting cells, called glia, whose extensions form beautifully patterned circuits. However, we still know little about how these cells are generated during development, how they acquire their distinct shapes and how they come together to form the intricate networks that allow the brain to function properly.

To close this gap in our knowledge, we are studying the brains of the tiny fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, focusing on the circuits they use to see. We are particularly interested in identifying the molecules that control the development of specific nerve and glial cell types in the fly’s visual system from birth to branch formation. Furthermore, we seek to understand how these cells interact with each other to create functioning circuits, as the fly transforms from an embryo, larva and pupa into an adult.

Knowing how these fundamental steps occur in a healthy brain will help us to better understand when things go wrong in neurological disorders that are caused by faulty genes during development.